ROBERT HIGHT TAKES AUTO CLUB FORD TO WINNER’S CIRCLE
AT CHEVROLET PERFORMANCE U.S. NATIONALS
INDIANAPOLIS, IN —- For the third time in his eight year career Robert Hight and the Auto Club Ford Mustang have won the most prestigious race on the NHRA Mello Yello Series, the 59th annual Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals. Hight defeated Jack Beckman in the final round 4.111 seconds to 6.072 seconds just three rounds after Hight clinched his spot in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship.
Hight entered the race in the No. 10 spot in the points and left Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in the No. 9 spot and with his 28th career win, the second most for a John Force Racing Funny Car driver. Hight was previously tied with Tony Pedregon at 27 Funny Cars at JFR.
Entering the race as the No. 7 qualifier Hight was not overly confident at the end of the day on Sunday. A conversation with crew chief Mike Neff, winner of the past two U.S. Nationals gave Hight a confidence boost.
“Mike Neff really changed things for me this weekend. Yesterday when the day was over we were seventh and that is not our usual solid qualifying effort. When we got back to the pits he came up to me and said we have them right where we want them. I looked at him like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ He said he has won the last two US Nationals and we didn’t qualify well. He said come Monday we will be fine. He said we will run well,” said a focused Hight.
“To add to the pressure we have to go up there and race Cruz Pedregon in the first round. He is one of the toughest competitors out here and when his car is on, he is tough to beat. We are trying to stay in the Top Ten. There are like a million things going on. I didn’t sleep last night,” said Hight.
Once again the calming influence of crew chief Mike Neff helped his driver relax and focus on the task at hand.
“Right before the first round Neff came up to me and said, ‘Listen regardless of the outcome we are in this together. We are going to believe in each other and we are going to stick together.’ It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I am up there trying to do a good job for him and this Auto Club team. They were doing well until I stepped into the seat. It was the perfect time to win,” said a relieved Hight in the Wall Parks Media Center.
At the end of the day Jamie Allison released a statement of support for the four Ford Mustang Funny Car teams as they enter the 2013 Countdown.
“What a great way to enter the playoffs – with a win for Robert Hight!” said Jamie Allison, Director of Ford Racing. “Of course, when one of your teams doesn’t make it it’s bittersweet, but we’re looking forward to a strong finish to the season for Ford. We’re committed to helping our teams win the championship this year. We wish all of our teams good luck in the Countdown.”
It had been thirty five races since Hight saw four win lights on race day. His last win was the Four Wide NHRA Nationals in Charlotte. He had one final round appearance in that stretch losing to Johnny Gray in Topeka this year.
“This is definitely the biggest win of my career. You start doubting yourself. We won four in a row early on last season and then went on a complete dry spell. I think I have only been to one other final and that was Topeka this year,” said Hight who has won at least two NHRA Funny Car races every season his entire career. “You start wondering about yourself. Then we make the big switch and I go over and drive for the Castrol team and we just move all my Auto Club decals. They were running well and winning and you start doubting yourself. You start asking yourself if I am the problem. John (Force) went to the final in Sonoma and all that stuff starts wearing on you. You start thinking about it.
Hight defeated Cruz Pedregon in the first round and clinched his spot in the Countdown when Bob Tasca III lost in the first round to Tim Wilkerson. Hight reflected on how tough the Funny Car class is and how he entered the Countdown in the No. 10 position in 2009 on the way to his first Funny car championship.
“It is not getting any easier. In fact I think competition is tougher now than when I won the championship in 2009. You don’t see people going out there and winning three races in a row any more. It just doesn’t happen. From the No. 9 position we are going to have to put together a hot streak. If we want to win the championship we are going to have to win at least two races and go to the semi-finals in the rest of the races.”
This was the sixth year in a row for John Force Racing to win the Funny Car title at the Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals. Hight started the streak in 2008, then teammate Ashley Force Hood followed with wins in 2009 and 2010, and Hight’s current crew chief Mike Neff added his two U.S. Nationals in 2011 and 2012. The team has won eight of the last ten Funny Car titles going back to Gary Densham in 2004.
“Keeping the winning streak alive was huge. Pulling up into the staging lanes right before we ran and you saw all these guys in JFR uniforms. There are more than normal because we are based in Brownsburg just right up the street. There are so many guys that are behind the scenes that don’t get to go to the races,” said Hight. “From guys that make our chassis to the engine builders or the guys in the paint department we are a big organization and you want to get them in the winner’s circle. You want them to be a part of this and have a big celebration with them. That is exactly what we are going to do.”
Hight is now only one U.S. Nationals win behind team owner John Force who took out Paul Lee in the first round before losing to veteran Del Worsham in the second round. After Force beat Lee in the opening round the winningest driver in NHRA history was pulling for all his teammates and sponsors.
“I am excited. I am going to have to start chasing corporate America but first I have to get back to racing. We are going to win this race. It will either be me or Robert Hight with his Auto Club Mustang. We have great partners like Castrol, Ford, Mac Tools, BrandSource, Traxxas, Freightliner and we will deliver,” said Force after first round win over Paul Lee
At the end of the day Force stood in the winner’s circle and surveyed the celebratory atmosphere.
“Winning Indy six years in a row is great. Robert has three Indy wins, I have four and this is three wins in a row for Mike Neff. These guys are the future of this team along with Courtney and Brittany and Ashley who has won this race twice in a row. You really have to just love Indy and how special it is. Robert got into the Countdown so we will have our three Mustangs trying to beat those Dodges and Toyotas. It will be a battle but we had a great day today and I have to thank the fans for sticking with this old truck driver. I will get fixed and we will keep on winning and staying in the fight,” said Force from Hight’s winner’s circle
This Labor Day weekend ended in a first round loss for No. 14 qualified driver Courtney Force despite her quick reaction times on the starting line.
The 25-year-old from Yorba Linda, Calif. left Del Worsham on the starting line during the opening round of eliminations with her .085 light to his .128 light, but her Traxxas Ford Mustang smoked the tires at about the 330 foot mark and gave up the win.
“We had a tough first round match up with Del Worsham, but he had lane choice over us. We went out and I was feeling confident about the run. We tried to change some things to make our car leave better early and we did that. We left on him, got down there a little ways and it started to
smoke the tires. I had to pedal it and he went on to get the win,” said Force.
Had Force won in the first round and dismissed Worsham from eliminations, the pressure load on teammate and brother-in-law Robert Hight would have lessened, but eventually Hight’s win over Cruz Pedregon gave the Force team what they needed.
“It’s unfortunate. I really wanted to be there for my teammate, Robert Hight, and help him out by helping him get clinched into the Countdown to the Championship. We weren’t able to do it on that run, but luckily Robert has a good car in that Auto Club Ford Mustang and he was able to do it all himself. He took out Cruz and clinched there,” said Force.
Force will start the NHRA Mello Yello series Countdown to the Championship in the No. 7 spot and go on to Charlotte, N.C. to battle it out in a 6-race post season stretch.
“I’m proud of my guys. They worked hard. It’s been a really long weekend, but you know what, we’ve got a good race car and it’s only a matter of time before we get this thing figured out and have the whole package. I’m excited leading into Charlotte. I know that we have a good car. I have faith in my team. Ron Douglas has been great and given me a great race car every run. It’s been consistent. We’re looking forward to Charlotte,” said Force.
In her first appearance at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, Top Fuel rookie Brittany Force put on a show for fans as she entered Sunday’s elimination rounds in the fourth position, her second best qualifying position of the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
Friday and Saturday’s qualifying efforts were stellar for the Castrol EDGE team as they raced to the No. 1 provisional qualifying position for the first time. Force and company tuned the dragster just right for those runs, but ultimately fell to the fourth position after four rounds of qualifying. In round one, the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award candidate faced veteran Terry McMillen. Force had a reaction time of 0.071 to McMillen’s 0.083, but the engine on the Castrol EDGE dragster blew up right before she crossed the finish line, falling short of the win.
“First round we had Terry McMillen. It didn’t go quite the way we planned,” Force said. “It had a hole out and we tried to get it down there. I felt it doing some weird things and I knew we were almost to the finish line. I saw Terry in the other lane next to me, so I stayed in it and it ended up blowing up. We lost it right there at the end. We were right there next to him and I had a good reaction time. We’re still moving in the right direction. This Castrol EDGE team came out and qualified No. 4. We didn’t advance to round two like we wanted, but hopefully we can make that happen two weeks from now in Charlotte.”
The 27-year-old Cal State-Fullerton graduate has a lot to be proud of this weekend. Not only did she qualify for the biggest race of the season, she and her entire team showed they are moving in the right direction with all the changes they made prior to the event.
“I was so glad to be here and race in the U.S. Nationals,” Force said. “It’s just exciting to qualify for Indy. It’s the biggest race of the year and to qualify and make it in the show from the No. 4 spot is a pretty big deal. Also, we noticed yesterday when John Medlen came on board this weekend, we ended up fourth, which was Eric Medlen’s (John’s son) number, so we thought that was special and it meant that we’re going in the right direction.”